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Bipartisan Task Force Endorses Democracy Promotion

June 8, 2005
Council on Foreign Relations

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Says U.S. Support for Democracy in the Arab World Marks Historic Change and Represents Unique Challenge

June 9, 2005—A Council-sponsored Task Force, In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How, says that the United States should support the evolutionary development of democracy consistently throughout the Middle East. It points out that a strategy to promote democracy entails inherent risks, but that "the denial of freedom carries much more significant long-term dangers."

The Task Force, comprised of leading regional, economic, diplomatic, and business experts, finds that democracy promotion is the best means to achieve stability in the Middle East as well as important in restoring America's credibility in the Arab world. It is also consistent with American ideals. The report states that democracy will not resolve the problem of terrorism entirely, but that "more open political environments will likely weaken the pull of extremist ideologies that fuel violence."

The independent, bipartisan Task Force, co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and former Congressman Vin Weber (R-MN) and directed by Council Next Generation Fellow Steven A. Cook, cautions that "if the new policy is implemented in ways that are superficial, halfhearted, underfunded, and inconsistent, it will yield new allegations of hypocrisy and further damage relations between the United States and Arab populations."

Drawing on consultations in the region with Arab thinkers, business leaders, and reform activists, the Task Force urges the Bush administration to:

  • Encourage Arab leaders to develop public, detailed "pathways for reform that respond to the specific demands for change made by citizens within each Arab country."
  • Remain vigilant in the fight against terrorist organizations but "no longer turn a blind eye when Middle Eastern leaders use national security to justify the repression of non-violent Islamist organizations."
  • Use financial and military assistance to provide incentives for reform.
  • Promote economic and political reform simultaneously.
  • Make the quality of bilateral relations contingent upon reform. "Countries demonstrating democratic progress will benefit from close relations with the United States, while Washington should distance itself from those countries that lag behind."

In addition, the Task Force calls for changes to Washington's public diplomacy strategy including the revival of the Voice of America's Arabic service, which should "become an integral component of Washington's public diplomacy strategy, emphasizing reform issues." Washington's own Arabic language news channel, al-Hurra "should be shifted to a C-SPAN-style format."

The Task Force finds that "Washington's involvement with Arab education reform is fraught with political and cultural hazards." As a result, the United States "should seek the partnership of Arab, American, European, and Asian educational institutions, foundations, the private sector, and multilateral organizations to develop teacher-training programs, provide technical assistance to decentralize Arab educational systems, help further expand English language instruction, and help establish lifelong learning through adult education."

The Task Force recognizes the critical importance of the Arab-Israeli conflict for the region and says that Washington's diplomatic engagement in the peace process will help reduce Arab mistrust of U.S. intentions. The Task Force recommends that Washington "support democratic reform in the Middle East whether or not there is progress towards peace, and should support progress towards peace whether or not there is significant democratic reform."

The Task Force concludes that the invasion of Iraq "has not helped America's standing or credibility in the region." At the same time, however, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Iraq's January elections "have contributed to the momentum for change" in the Middle East. "Arab political activists may vehemently disagree with U.S. policy but still find value in the example of Iraqis forming political parties, electing leaders and drafting a new constitution."


Founded in 1921, the Council on Foreign Relations is an independent, national membership organization and a nonpartisan center for scholars dedicated to producing and disseminating ideas so that individual and corporate members, as well as policymakers, journalists, students, and interested citizens in the United States and other countries, can better understand the world and foreign policy choices facing the United States and other governments.

Members of the Independent Task Force on U.S. Policy Toward Reform in the Arab World

Madeleine K. Albright (Co-Chair)
THE ALBRIGHT GROUP LLC

Vin Weber (Co-Chair)
CLARK & WEINSTOCK

Steven A. Cook (Project Director)
COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS

Feisal Abdul Rauf
ASMA SOCIETY

Khaled M. Abou El Fadl
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES

Odeh F. Aburdene
OAI ADVISORS

Nancy Birdsall
CENTER FOR GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT

Daniel Brumberg
UNITED STATES INSTITUTE OF PEACE

Les Campbell
NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

Larry Diamond
HOOVER INSTITUTION

Michele D. Dunne
GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY

Noah R. Feldman
NEW YORK UNIVERSITY

F. Gregory Gause
UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT

Amy W. Hawthorne
INDEPENDENT CONSULTANT

Robert J. Katz
GOLDMAN, SACHS & CO.

Mel Levine
GIBSON DUNN & CRUTCHER, LLP

Abdeslam E. Maghraoui
UNITED STATES INSTITUTE OF PEACE

Joshua Muravchik
AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE FOR PUBLIC POLICY RESEARCH

Michael N. Pocalyko
MONTICELLO CAPITAL LLC

William A. Rugh
CONSULTANT

Anita Sharma
INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR MIGRATION

George Vradenburg III
VRADENBURG FOUNDATION

Tamara C. Wittes
THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION

Tarik M. Yousef
GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY

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